Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden

38914991A biopunk horror generation ship sci-fi novel with a main f/f relationship between two black girls, a strong and well-thought-out environmentalist message, really well written body horror, and, uh, plot-relevant tentacle sex.

I loved what it had to say and what it was trying to achieve, but some things – especially in the ending – just didn’t end up working for me. I’ve said this before about Nicky Drayden’s books, but there’s always something about the pacing, about the transition from one scene to the next, that just doesn’t flow as well as it should. The result is a stilted, odd-paced book. Here, the first 70% was interesting, if somewhat slow moving; then the book both gained steam and completely lost me. Things were happening too quickly, plotlines that were set up as a big deal were suddenly abandoned with very little consequence or even discussion, plot threads were left floating… like tentacles in empty space, I guess.

And it’s a shame, because this had so much potential. Escaping Exodusis set in a giant, dying space-faring cephalopod-like beast, and not only it has all the wonderful biological horror you can expect from this kind of setting, there are also discussions about classism and environmentalism – the dying beast situation is great as a metaphor for Earth and climate change – and how the two are tied; not enough books approach environmental justice even when talking about the consequences that a looming catastrophe of this scale has on people’s behavior. I also highlighted a good portion of one of Seske’s chapters, because I found it a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be a young person in this situation and feeling disappointed by the adults around you. As far as this aspect goes, I loved how the dying beast situation was handled in the end, with a focus on fixing things instead of running away.
However, even this aspect of the novel felt forced. This book felt as if it set out with the idea of having this message, of ending in this specific way, and didn’t give as much thought to the journey: the characters were led to that point as if they were marionettes, instead of getting there themselves.

And it couldn’t have felt any other way, not when the characters are so flat. I finished the book realizing that I still knew nothing about the two main characters, rich, privileged Seske and beastworker Adala, apart from them being young teens and… loving each other? At times? It’s really messy, and I might have appreciated that more, if not for the fact that a lot of things in here didn’t have the space and time to grow.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot to love about Escaping Exodus. I might have been annoyed that this book, after deciding that making sense was overrated, also deliberated that consistency was for the weak, but I thought the worldbuilding was amazing. I love reading about world-ships, and the book goes into enough detail about the anatomy to make me want to know more (so, a primary heart, branchial hearts and tentacles, like cephalopods? But it has bones? Are those tentacles or arms or both? I have questions) and the society that inhabits it was just as fascinating. In Escaping Exoduspolyamory isn’t just accepted, it’s expected, and just as the society has many layers and rigidly assigned roles, so do people in the family; one can see both where these things came from and why they’re damaging or stifling to many people. It’s a matriarchy, which was interesting to see as well. I did like that it talked about what happens to trans people in these circumstances, but I didn’t love how the major trans character basically paid the price for what happened in a way that the cis main characters didn’t.

If I had to describe this in a few words as a tl;dr, I would say that Escaping Exodus feels as if The Stars Are Legion and An Unkindness of Ghosts had a charmingly messy child that takes itself far less seriously than either of them. It reminded me of both, but it’s entirely its own, very weird thing. Not my favorite book by this author, and it had enough material in it that to properly address it I think it should have been a duology, but worth reading nonetheless.

My rating: ★★★

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Adult · Sci-fi · Short fiction

Review: Meet Me in the Future by Kameron Hurley

43801821._sy475_I could sum up my thoughts about Meet Me in the Future by saying that all the stories were, if not always good, at least solid, but not one of them was memorable on its own the way I find short stories can be.
These stories are not pretty. They’re not necessarily satisfying. They would, however, be really interesting to discuss, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the whole purpose of how some of these were written. They’re meant to be shared and talked about, not read and put down, I think.

As you’d expect from something Kameron Hurley wrote, many of them are about war. War is an element in the past, still casting a shadow on the main character (Elephants and Corpses), it’s something that is seen as inevitable by a society, but is also a direct danger to it (The Red Secretary, oh had this story a lot to say), or something that is paradoxically seen by some as “bringing civilization” even as it actually destroys it (The War of Heroes), something that is always inherently tied to the dehumanization of someone (When We Fall) and horror, horror, horror as much as an instrument to keep the attention away from the actual enemy (The Light Brigade – I recommend skipping this one if you want to read the book, however), something that needs to end (The Improbable War).
Not all of these were anything remarkable when read on their own. Inside the collection, it’s a running thread, and there is for sure a lot to discuss.

There’s also, of course, a lot of queerness and discussions about gender. The collection starts with a body-hopping mercenary who happens to be a trans man (Elephants and Corpses), and presents gender as something not tied to bodies, even though still relevant to the person, and continues with stories about violent matriarchies (The Women of Our Occupation, possibly my least favorite story, I’m not that interested in reading about speculative reverse sexism), stories in which gender is never stated (The Light Brigade), stories in which there’s only one gender (Warped Passages), and stories in which there are at least four different genders recognized by the society (The Plague Givers, my favorite story). In these stories, women are allowed to be ugly, to be dirty – queer, disabled, brown women are allowed to be all of these things without ever be seen as anything but wholly human, the way a man could be portrayed. The idea that women have to be beautiful is so woven into everything, even everything fictional, that these stories almost feel jarring.
And, since we’re talking about women and imperfections, here women are allowed to be evil or morally gray, humans with the capacity to experience a full spectrum of emotions. I will always be there for portrayals of queer women that are all but soft and unproblematic; in Garda we get a woman who is divorcing from her two wives (if the story had been about that, instead of becoming about a mystery with a main character who wasn’t Nyx but felt exactly like Nyx from the Bel Dame Apocrypha series, I would have liked it a lot more), and in The Plague Givers we get a story about the consequences of a very toxic f/f relationship in a world where magic can bring plague (I loved this one so much).

There are a couple stories that felt like filler (notably, The Fisherman and the Pig was a completely unnecessary sequel to Elephants and Corpses), but overall, this is a collection with a lot of things to say; the average rating might be a weak 3.5 stars, but the whole is more than a sum of its parts.

My overall rating: ★★★★

Individual ratings:

  • Elephants and Corpses – 4 stars
  • When We Fall – 4 stars
  • The Red Secretary – 4 stars
  • The Sinners and the Sea – 3.5 stars
  • The Women of Our Occupation – 2 stars
  • The Fisherman and the Pig – 2 stars
  • Garda – 3 stars
  • The Plague Givers – 4.5 stars
  • Tumbledown – 4 stars
  • Warped Passages – 4 stars
  • Our Faces, Radiant Sisters, Our Faces Full of Light – 2.5 stars
  • Enyo-Enyo – 3 stars
  • The Corpse Archives – 2.5 stars
  • The War of Heroes – 3.5 stars
  • The Light Brigade – 4.5 stars
  • The Improbable War – 3 stars

Do you rate anthologies with the average rating of the stories or do you have another system?

Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

42201485Hexarchate Stories is a collection of stories – from flash fiction and prose poems, both old and new, to a sequel novella – set in the universe of the Machineries of Empire series.
While many of these stories develop the worldbuilding, give a PoV to characters that were only minor in the trilogy, and give you some insight into how this series came together, they’re not necessary to understand it. Nor – I think – would mean a lot to someone who isn’t familiar with the main trilogy. I would recommend this mostly to those who loved this universe and want more.
As I’m part of said those, I’m glad these stories exist, and I’m glad that I can find most of them in only one place now.

This collection starts with The Chameleon’s Gloves, following Rhehan, an alt (non-binary person) who is trying to pull off art theft and gets roped into something much more dangerous instead, something that will make them question their loyalties. This was interesting mostly because of its worldbuilding, as it’s set before everything we saw in the series came into being.
Of mostly historical significance is also Seven Views of the Liozh Entrance Exam, snapshots about a faction then gone heretical, which made me realize just how much the Hexarchate misunderstands its own history.

And I can’t not mention the gorgeous prose poem How the Andan Court. I’ve always been intrigued by the Andan faction, mostly because a) pretty and b) we see a lot of the inner workings of the Shuos, but not of the Andan, but from the little we see of actual Andan in the series they’re equally terrifying.
And now I want them to court me instead

There are also stories following Jedao’s childhood and family. They’re bittersweet, especially if you know what happens later, and really interesting, because Garach Ledana is a very fascinating person and because foreshadowing. The one in Rodao’s PoV was especially heartbreaking, as I can’t help but wonder about all the what ifs.
(Also, of course kid!Jedao cut class to play jeng-zai)

Then there’s Extracurricular Activities, the novelette that introduced me to this series. It has all the humor of the series, but it’s much lighter in tone; I’ve read it probably more than ten times by now, and every time I catch some new detail that makes me laugh. (The part about eating utensils and Jedao’s thoughts about knives never fail.)
It’s just – Jedao. He’s a charming, murderous bisexual disaster?
Also, here you’ll get more details about his mother, about the Gwa Reality, and you’ll get to read probably the closest thing to a (m/m) romance there is in this series, apart from the Brezan/Tseya storyline, maybe.

Far less romantic is Gloves, in which Jedao visits a brothel, feat. forbidden Kel uniform kink. Basically PWP, but as I suspected, there was some seriously ugly context, because my experience told me that when this author takes the time to describe a sex scene instead of just mentioning it – at least in this universe – there’s always some seriously ugly context.
And I mean, that was one messed up ending.

Another story I read before the actual trilogy is The Battle of Candle Arc, about of one of Jedao’s most well-known battles, in which he was outnumbered eight to one. I’ve read it a lot of times by now, and every time, my favorite parts are the ones about cross-faction bickering and the Jedao/Menowen dialogues.

Then there’s Calendrical Rot, which started out as the prologue of Ninefox Gambit but was then removed. It’s just a fragment about one of the many places in which the story began, and now I have questions, and is it weird that unanswered questions just make this world feel more real?

The following stories (BirthdaysThe Robot’s Math LessonsSword-ShoppingPersimmons) are about Cheris, her Mwennin upbringing, and her relationship with servitors. I love how Cheris is simultaneously a math lesbian and a sword lesbian, this is the kind of representation we need
The servitors have never been my favorite part of this series, but reading about how they see humans and how they interact with them, especially with Cheris, is always interesting.

Then there are two stories following some of my favorite characters: Irriz the Assassin Cat, of course, which is probably my favorite of the flash pieces, because it’s about Zehun and cats and Shuos parenting, and Vacation, about Brezan and Tseya, featuring questionable Nirai experiments.

The last short story is Gamer’s End. I’m not sure where it’s placed timeline-wise, but it’s a really interesting piece in second person about Shuos Academy’s new ethics curriculum. This is probably the most unethical way to have a test about ethics anyone has ever come up with, but what can you expect from the Shuos?
Also: a medical unit decored with knitted lace? Mikodez, why. (No, seriously, half of the reason I like this series are this kind of details.)

And then there’s the sequel novella, Glass Cannon, in which Jedao Two escapes the Citadel of Eyes to get his memories back from Cheris, and the two kind of reconcile in the process. I have some mixed feelings about this, because it has an exposition problem. I think there was an attempt to make this novella accessible to those who haven’t read the main series or don’t remember it that well, but it… really didn’t flow smoothly the way the rest of the series does. (How many times did you need to directly tell me that Kujen liked luxury?)

Also, I’m not sure if there are going to be more stories in this universe, but reading a very open-ended sequel novella after the trilogy had a pretty satisfying conclusion is… somewhat disappointing? However, there were some things left open in the third book, and this novella started to deal with them (servitor rights! moth rights! Seriously I love the Harmony), and Jedao Two was in a terrible place mentally when we left him – at least what happened here seems to have made that better. Also, Cheris now knows more details about what happened with Dhanneth, which is something I had hoped would happen in Revenant Gun, and I’m glad that was addressed, if somewhat obliquely.

I realize that so far what I’ve said about this novella sounds mostly negative, but I actually really liked reading it – it’s hilarious. As Cheris/Jedao and Jedao Two are both Jedao to a level but not fully, and as no one alive hates Jedao quite as much as Jedao himself does… well, it goes exactly as messily as one could think. It reminded me of Extracurricular Activities, as it has all of the humor and some of the darkness of the main series but none of the heaviness. And since I’m always there for mirroring, something about this ending made a lot of sense to me, too.
(My favorite parts were the ones in which Jedao was described as “the regenerating menace from outer space” and “what did the void vomit forth”.)
Also: Niath cameo (I’m so glad he seems to be doing ok, even though I hadn’t really met him before), Hemiola cameo, and poor Mikodez.

My rating: ★★★★½ [5 for the short stories, 4 for the novella]

Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

First, some backstory: if you’ve been here since 2017, you probably remember me reviewing Ninefox Gambit before and are probably tired of hearing me talk about it, too. And I have – it’s just that, at the time, I wasn’t that fluent in English, and that review is a mess – so I decided to review this book again (and turn the settings of the old one to private). I want to be able to link something coherent when it comes to a book I often talk about.

So! Here’s Acqua’s review of Ninefox Gambit on sixth reread.


NinefoxGambitNinefox Gambit is my favorite book.
It’s the kind of novel I could reread over and over and still get something new from – this was the sixth reread in two years for me, and I’m still discovering things about this world.

But let’s get to what Ninefox Gambit is. This is a story about sieges: Cheris’ siege of a space fortress, and Jedao’s siege of Cheris’ values, beliefs and mind. And it is, in fact, a very twisty book, without needing that many shocking plot twists – just layers upon layers of mind games present and past, slowly unraveling towards a partial truth.
I say “partial”, because this book will almost never straightforwardly reveal that a certain character was lying in a particular moment, which, in a book in which most non-PoV characters are often at the very least lying by omission, makes for an interesting exercise in ambiguity. You know some of them are liars. Being able to tell when they’re lying – well, that’s not always as easy, and a few things are left for you to interpret.

I often see people say that this book is hard to get into, because “it doesn’t explain enough” – which is said both about the way it relies on hints and subtext and about the worldbuilding, which is, admittedly, one of the most unique (read: outright bizarre) I’ve ever read. I strongly disagree. I really appreciate when a book trusts its reader to keep up, to figure things on their own. Maybe it will take more of my attention, and it won’t be an easy read, but I’m glad to not have to wade through infodumps every time I reread. It’s a graceful writing choice, in my opinion.
(Also: if a 17-year-old ESL speaker made it, you probably can too.)

Ninefox Gambit is deceptively short. It’s barely longer than 300 pages, and yet it’s one of the few books that managed to convince me that there’s an entire universe of things happening outside the Scattered Needles siege, an universe with a complicated and often ugly history, and I love how wide it feels, how high the stakes are at the end.
It mostly follows two characters, whom I love with my whole heard, even though they’re terrible.
🦊 Kel Cheris, math lesbian and professional trouble magnet, narrates most of this book. She makes friends with AIs (“servitors”), joined the military faction because she wanted to fit in, and got caught up into a scheme that led her to be anchored to Jedao’s ghost and leading the swarm (space fleet) in the Scattered Needles siege. Deserves a nap. Unlike many of the characters, she still has a somewhat functioning moral compass.
🦊 Shuos Jedao, bisexual disaster, was a general who lived centuries before the siege, and he is well known for never losing a battle and for having slaughtered his own army during his last one for apparently no reason. He’s not the kind of person you think of when you think about mass murder – he’s charming, far from unfeeling, likes talking to people, and is mostly a pleasant person to be around. Until he’s not. With every reread, I realize more and more how much of a manipulative bastard he is – this is one of the few books in which the manipulative character not only was actually good at manipulating, but the book made me believe he was.

And the Cheris-Jedao dynamic? So fascinating. It reminds me of how much can be done with relationships that aren’t romantic in the slightest when you develop them enough.

There are other relevant characters I love, like Hexarch Shuos Mikodez (the morally messed up and aroace highlight of book two), and Hexarch Nirai Kujen, the evil scientist who reads like the sci-fi version of a fae (cruel, beautiful, impossibly ancient). A few chapters are told from the PoVs of minor characters to show what’s going on while Cheris and Jedao’s ghost are in the command center. And even those characters left an impact on me, and that’s not easy to accomplish.

I also, of course, love the worldbuilding to pieces. It’s Korean-inspired space opera with a math-based magic system that is affected by people’s beliefs and by the system of timekeeping they implement. It’s fascinating and not easy to understand at first, but I loved it for its beauty and weirdness – for a bloodthirsty space dystopia where war and ritual torture are the norm, the Hexarchate is beautiful in an unsettling way. And it’s also very queer; this book has an all-queer cast, and it’s the demonstration that you can write about queer people living in objectively horrible places without writing queer trauma porn (there are no homophobia or sexism in this book, and it’s still very much a space dystopia.)

And one last thing, before I turn this review into a book in itself: I love how this novel plays with ableist assumptions. The amount of people who don’t try to dig deeper in the circumstances around Jedao’s mass murder and take “madness” as a reason for what he did is… oddly realistic. As this book says, as straightforward as it ever gets, that’s not how things work.

My rating: ★★★★★

Trigger Warnings, if you need them – I think it’s better to go into this prepared (they’re not actually spoilers, but if you want to go into this without knowing anything more, don’t read this):

  • This is a story about war, which means that trigger warnings for extreme violence, gore, and mass death are necessary, plus graphic dismemberment and animal death because it’s that kind of book
  • This deals with suicide. There’s on-page suicidal ideation and the beginning of an attempt (character changes their mind). There are deaths by suicide, but they’re only mentioned and/or in flashbacks and don’t directly involve the main characters. There is, however, a scene involving dissociation from a PoV character.
  • Near the ending, there’s a scene in which a woman sexually assaults a man. It’s in the first pages of chapter 21 if you need to know where to skip/skim.
  • Also, mentions of torture, as ritual torture is how this universe works, but no explicit torture scenes.
Book review · Fantasy · Sci-fi · Young adult

Review: The Fever King by Victoria Lee

39897058The Fever King is the first book in a futuristic sci-fantasy series set in what is left of the once-United States. It follows a main character who is bisexual, Jewish and Colombian and it features a main m/m romance. It’s a story that talks about a lot of interesting themes, and I’m going to get to that in this review, but first I want to talk about what this book made me think about predictability.

Was The Fever King completely predictable? Yes.
Did I care? Not even a little, and that should tell you something about how well-written these characters are.

I think we often use “this was predictable” to mean that a book was boring and banal. And I mean, that’s often true, especially for books in which predictability isn’t the point – I… wouldn’t complain about predictability in the romance genre, you know – but sometimes it’s just not.
Sometimes a book is predictable because it took the path you wanted it to have, because it developed in a way that made sense, because the author didn’t decide to sacrifice a perfectly solid and entertaining storyline for the sake of shock value. And as long as the main character isn’t naive or unobservant for no reason – and here, that wasn’t the case (I’m going to explain why later) – I’m not going to penalize a book for doing what it should have done.

And did this book go there. The Fever King is set in a country with an internal refugee crisis and an external persecution problem, as it’s the only state in the world that doesn’t imprison people who have magical powers, and it’s a story about how people react to personal and generational trauma, a story about whether and how much the goal can justify the means.
If you know anything about me, you should also know that this last sentence is probably the thing I like to see the most in fiction. Why? Because it makes for terrific villainous characters. And this was no exception. I can’t tell you as much as I’d like about the character I’m talking about – because while it’s a very predictable storyline, I’d rather write a spoiler-free review – but I found him really fascinating and awful, and isn’t that the best combination? As usual, the characters that make me think “I want to know more!” and “please die, like, right now” are the ones I feel strongly about

I also really liked the main character, Noam. He’s the son of immigrants, and after he survived a deadly virus and became a witchling, he’s thrust in a world that represents everything he has always hated – and to see how conflicted he is, how he’s desperately looking for allies and at the same time kind of wants to go back? He was a really interesting character to read about.
And his romance with Dara? The way they start out suspicious of each other but grow closer anyway and still don’t really know what’s the right thing to do… I have a lot of feelings, it must be that I just really like reading about confused young gays who are trying their best to do the right thing.

Click here to see why I didn’t think Noam was too oblivious (SPOILERS)

…most of the naïveté and looking the other way was totally Lehrer-induced, come on. It’s literally his power. The reason I didn’t get frustrated with Noam’s behavior is exactly that this book was so predictable I guessed Lehrer’s power before halfway through and… if you read this novel with that in mind, the parts in which Noam is being supernaturally manipulated are pretty blatant?
A certain character says that maybe Lehrer needs to order something to you directly to make you do it, but there are parts of this book that strongly imply otherwise (and it’s the only thing this book actually used subtlety for, and maybe it shouldn’t have, because I think many are missing it?)
Anyway, it’s funny that I finally have found a book in which the predictability was a positive thing, I would have disliked the main character otherwise.

The other side characters weren’t that developed, but seeing how marginal most of them were, it wasn’t that much of an issue. (This also meant that there isn’t a woman who has a relevant role in the whole book, which I… don’t really like)

I liked reading about this world. It looks like a horrible place to be in, but it also has one of the most interesting magic systems I’ve read in a while, both because it includes superpowers I had never seen in a novel before – the main character main’s power is technopathy, basically magical hacking – and because it’s based on knowledge; you can get new powers if you study (for example, you can get telekinesis from physics).
What I liked less about the world is that I often had no idea how anything looked like, but I can’t say I didn’t like the writing either, because this is the kind of story that felt effortless and that I went through in less than two days, two days during which it took over my head and I couldn’t think about anything else.

My rating: ★★★★¾

Book review · middle grade · Sci-fi

Review: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

34966859This is one of the best things I’ve ever read.

Dragon Pearl is a Korean-inspired space opera following a teenage fox spirit, set in a queer-inclusive universe. I can’t believe I almost didn’t read it just because it was middle grade; if I hadn’t loved Ninefox Gambit so much, I would have never picked it up, and that would have been such a mistake on my part. It is middle grade, that’s the target audience, but Dragon Pearl is the kind of book that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

I had almost forgotten that books could be so much fun. I read mostly upper YA and adult books, and many – though not all – are always trying to be dark and tense and serious while forgetting that without the light moments, nothing in them feels meaningful. That’s not to say that this book is all sunshine and happiness, because it’s not, but it understands balance and doesn’t throw unnecessary violence at you. It’s the kind of book about an adventure that you just can’t put down – it follows a young shapeshifting fox who is constantly trying to trick people, and I loved every moment of it. I would have loved this when I was twelve and I think I would love this again if I reread it in a few years. There are books I loved because I read them at the right time in my life, but this is the kind of book I would have loved no matter what.

Let’s talk about our trickster fox, Min. She’s the kind of character I would have wanted to be at twelve, and now I both admire her a lot and want to hug her. She’s just trying to find her lost, maybe-traitorous older brother back, and to do so, she’ll get in increasingly dangerous situations, with the help of her charm and her ability to shapeshift.

This is also the kind of book I needed but didn’t have when I was twelve. A middle grade book that not only has queer characters in it, its world is full of them: in Dragon Pearlbeing non-binary is normal and people casually mention their polyamorous family. Also, foxes can choose what gender to present as in their human form, and Min says that she chose to be a girl… because of tradition. I love reading about societies whose views towards gender are different from the western human default.
(Min’s sexual orientation isn’t stated – there’s no romance and I loved that – but I will never assume that the default in a book written by Yoon Ha Lee is straight and neither should you!)

As I expected, I loved the writing. If you’re familiar with Ninefox Gambit and you’re worried it will get as complicated as that (I love complicated! But not everyone does), this is much more accessible and the worldbuilding is still wonderful and complex. It’s a story set in space which has exactly what I love about Lee’s worlds: technology, magic and the characters’ beliefs are linked, the lines between them always blurred. You get something that feels a bit like science, a bit like religion, a bit like magic, and yet different from all of them.
I never struggled to understand how things looked like. And from dangerous gambling parlors to spaceships and halfway-terraformed, dusty planets, everything about this book was beautiful.

I also really liked reading about the side characters – Jang, the ghost of the cadet Min is impersonating at some point, her friends, the female dragon Haneul and the non-binary dokkaebi Suijin, and even Min’s own brother Jun, when I got to meet him. This is officially the first time I liked the “main character goes on an adventure to rescue sibling” trope, because I actually ended up caring about said sibling. He was an amazing fox too.

Also, that ending? I almost cried. Of happiness.

My rating: ★★★★★

Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: Empire of Light by Alex Harrow

39866780“Quiet moments? I don’t know them”
― Empire of Light, probably

The author says they write “queerness with a chance of explosion” and – for this book at least – that’s such an understatement. This is probably the most frenzied book I’ve ever read.

Empire of Light is the first book in a very queer futuristic sci-fantasy series. This first book felt like a fast-paced dystopian focused on a m/m/m love triangle to me, but I think that as the series goes on, “dystopian” could become a restrictive term to describe it. I love stories that blur the lines between genres.

As I mentioned before, what stood out to me the most about this book was how it never slowed down. The characters were almost always getting shot at, and when they weren’t getting shot at, they were having sex. I haven’t seen so many shooting and explosion scenes since Zero Sum Game, and just like I said about that book, I think Empire of Light would work well on a screen. However, as this book tries to pull off a lot of plot twists – some better executed than others, I have to say – the “getting shot at” parts got somewhat confusing sometimes.
I could say that this book would have benefited from slowing down, but every pacing choice has its own advantages: I’m in a slump, and I flew through this, and I managed to do that because Empire of Light is the kind of book that doesn’t let you breathe. In spite of that, it manages to not become soulless like too many plot-driven, action-packed books do, because the main relationships are developed, dynamic and interesting.

This novel is mainly impossible to sum up because of spoilers and the amount of political intrigue, backstabbing and twists there are, but I can say that it is about Damian, an assassin for hire, as he grows apart from Aris, his higly-unstable magical lover, and gets closer to a mysterious revolutionary named Raeyn. I found the development of Damian and Aris’ relationship fascinating. I have read many (and still not enough, because the “many” isn’t “most”) books that have an interesting storyline following two characters who get together, but I have never read a story about a relationship falling apart that felt so real and compelling at the same time.

However, I can’t say the same about the side characters, and the aspects in which this book fell flat to me are all related to the side characters. They were flat, underdeveloped, and I didn’t feel anything about them when they inevitably died.
Also: I really appreciated the diversity and I’m glad I found another mostly-queer if not all-queer book, with a demisexual main character and prominent supporting characters who are polyamorous no less, but… the fact that the queer black girl died sacrificing herself for the main character didn’t sit well with me. The main character is a queer person of color himself and there are trigger warnings at the beginning which explicitly tell you that’s going to happen, but I kept thinking that wasn’t necessary at all.
Also, at some point I was really annoyed by the fact that all women were either evil or dead, and while that got somewhat better by the end of the novel, I’d like m/m books to remember that it would still be nice if they passed the Bechdel test sometimes.

My rating: ★★★½